Read the room: Local illustrators adorn public library with murals

On the shelf: Award-winning children’s book illustrator Sophie Blackall sits in front of her mural at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Gregg Richards

They’re really up against the wall !

A series of seven colorful murals celebrating the power of books now decorates the children’s section of Brooklyn’s biggest reading room. The Brooklyn Public Library unveiled the images, which are spread along one wall of the Youth Wing of its Central Library, at a celebration on Oct. 7. Adding art to the library was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, said one of the creators.

“I never would have dreamed that I could contribute in this way to this borough that I love so much,” said Stephen Savage, a 25-year Brooklyn resident and illustrator of the children’s book “Polar Bear Night.”

The art project began as a way to liven up the plain white walls of the library’s Youth Wing with framed prints, but soon snowballed into a mural project involving seven acclaimed children’s book illustrators with ties to the library system.

The artists worked together to create a unifying theme for the seven murals, said the Brooklyn illustrator who also art directed the project.

“What we came up with was ‘What happens to a book when it leaves the library?’” said Sophie Blackall, artist of the “Ivy and Bean” series and a two-time winner of the Caldecott Medal. “The book goes out into the community, and it gets read in treetops, and on the subway — and ‘Where does the book takes you?’ — to imaginary places and to dreamscapes.”

The murals start with Savage’s image of a flying saucer hovering over the Central Branch, lifting a red book with a tractor beam. Other murals show the book traveling around the world, street scenes of Brooklyn, imaginary creatures, and finally, children reading while floating above the earth.

Repeating motifs across the murals include that spaceship, a mother pushing a stroller, butterflies, and the golden creatures that adorn the front gates of the Central Branch Library.

Working with the library was a personal project, said Blackall, an Australian native.

“I would do almost anything — almost —for the library,” she said. “The library and I go back a long way. About 20 years ago I moved to this country, not knowing a soul, in the dead of winter, and my infant son learned to walk in the youth wing. The library opened its doors to us. It was warm, it was free, and we read our way through the stacks, and along the way, I took notes on how to make a picture book.”

Other mural artists were Christopher Myers, Javaka Steptoe, Paul Zelinsky, Selina Alko, and Yuyi Morales.

Central Library Youth Wing [10 Grand Army Plaza at Eastern Parkway in Prospect Heights, (718) 230–2100, www.bklynlibrary.org]. Open Mon–Thu, 9 am–9 pm; Fri, Sat, 9 am–6 pm; Sun, 1–5 pm. Free.

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at broundy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507.
Ship shape: Brooklyn illustrator Stephen Savage refers to his mural as a “close encounter of the literary kind.”
Gregg Richards

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